- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

Life: s soon as Barbara Emanuele’s three daughters are tucked in at night, she retreats to her “escape place” — her posh new bathtub.”I sit [in the tub] from one to two in the morning reading my book,” the 43-year-old Rockville resident says. “No one’s allowed to bother me.”A home’s bathtub can be a drab, functional part of the house. Or, for Mrs. Emanuele and others like her, it can be a relaxing place to begin or end the day. From Jacuzzi-style bathtubs with water jets massaging those knotty muscles to claw-footed models that evoke simpler times, a home’s bathtub can say a lot about the homeowner.Area interior designers say homeowners are splurging on their bathrooms more than ever, a change Christopher Barson pins in part on the real estate market.”The way property values go up so quickly, they don’t mind sinking [money] into a bathroom,” says Mr. Barson, proprietor of Christopher Barson Interior Associates in Northwest.”Most of my clients really like to pamper themselves. When somebody knows what they want, they get it, at whatever cost,” Mr. Barson says.The Emanuele family installed its upscale bathroom in their Rockville home six months ago, fulfilling a long-held desire for the matriarch.”I lived for 10 years without a nice bathroom … . It really is my oasis,” she says.Mrs. Emanuele’s marble bathtub features water jets to soothe the back and neck. She also installed a television above the tub so she could soak and catch her favorite programs simultaneously. The only drawback so far is the amount of hot water the large tub holds, putting a strain on her water heater.Mr. Barson cautions about the placement of a bathtub’s water jets. Some tubs position jets near the bather’s neck for a relaxing stream of bubbles. Mr. Barson warns that those streams can have a numbing effect after a while. A better solution is to buy tubs with the jets on the sides, which he says provide less intense pulses of water.Brenton Bacari, president of Bacari Design in Northwest, says fewer people want more than one tub in their home, but the master-bathroom tub, Mr. Bacari says, is “knock-down, drag-out gorgeous, and way oversized.”“It’s kind of a status symbol to have a very, very big, luxurious, sophisticated bathroom with electronic gizmos and all marble,” he says.Industry experts agree that many homeowners prefer their shower and bathtub setups to be separate.Some tubs even are large enough to accommodate more than one bather, ideal for romantic soaks or for parents tending to more than one child’s cleanliness at a time.The placement of tubs also is getting more creative, Mr. Bacari says. Homeowners once relegated bathtub space to the end of the room. Now, a tub often can be splashed dead center in the bathroom, serving as the room’s focal point. That style began out West and has made its way eastward, says Mr. Bacari, who previously worked in Beverly Hills.Fiberglass bathtubs offer glossy, chip-resistance surfaces that can recover their original sparkle with a dose of car wax, and acrylic tubs also resist chipping. Cast-iron models chip more easily and are ponderous to move or install, but they retain heat better. Another option is a steel tub, which can rust over time but is less expensive than a cast-iron tub.Katie Leavy, principal designer for Capital Design in the District, says some of her clients order standard-size tubs (5 or 6 feet in length) and find that the tubs are too small for their needs.”Our houses are getting so much bigger … I almost feel they’re trying to fill the space [with larger tubs],” Mrs. Leavy says.Some tub decisions come down to aesthetics.”For an old farmhouse, then yes, [a retro tub] is charming, but that type of tub doesn’t have whirlpool jets,” she says.That didn’t bother Christina Wilson, whose Capitol Hill home’s bathroom remains faithful to the building’s 1875 roots. Ms. Wilson, an architectural historian, restored her home’s existing claw-foot bathtub to its former glory.”We wanted to reflect the first plumbing in this house,” says Ms. Wilson, noting that the task was made easier because the tub clearly is marked circa 1913.”The tub is kind of a metaphor for people’s life choices,” she says. Those who look to the past for inspiration “like to recycle things.”She worked with Mr. Barson to refurbish the tub, which is a bit short at less than 5 feet in length but is deeper than most.”My niece is 4. She loves our tub because it’s so deep,” Ms. Wilson says.Ms. Wilson says reproductions of old tubs are easy to spot.”Any plumbing showroom will have at least some retro lines,” she says. Other options include the Brass Knob in Adams Morgan and Restoration Hardware, which has several locations in the area. Bathtubs may appear generally the same, but they can differ in both style and function. Soaking tubs are deeper than regular models and allow the body to be completely immersed in water. Claw-foot models stand alone in the bathroom. A newer variation on those tubs features a stand-alone tub atop a black metal stand, a blend of old and new styles.A high-end tub growing in popularity is one in which the water splashes over the four edges and recycles back into the tub. Newer models also can feature mood lighting and aromatherapy options at the flick of a shriveled finger.Sam Rose, national showroom manager for Ferguson Enterprises plumbing distributing company in Newport News, Va., says today’s homeowners are looking to re-create the spa experience in their bathrooms. Ferguson has two showrooms in the area. “People are investing a great amount of space and dollars on the master bath, as opposed to five or 10 years ago,” Mr. Rose says. “The term ‘feathering their nest’ is happening when you look at the bathroom. “It does come at a cost,” he says, a range he puts at anywhere from $2,000 to tens of thousands.However, regardless of the new popularity of elaborate tubs, a few of Mr. Barson’s clients have thrown in the towel on bathtubs altogether. With both husbands and wives working full time these days, he says, “they don’t like having to clean the tub.”But, for those who desire an unconventional soak, one stylish alternative for homeowners is the Japanese wood bathtub, which resembles something found at a high-end spa, says Kathleen Ngiam, senior designer with the Georgetown-based interior design firm Core Group. These handmade creations feature pine flourishes.”Aesthetically, it’s a little more natural feeling,” she says. However, the maintenance is more complicated than with a traditional bathtub. “Scrubbing porcelain and scrubbing wood are two different things.” The wood tubs point to a slow but gradual shift away from the staid color choices of the past.”You’ll see more colors,” she promises of future tubs. “Americans are going to move away from white, and you’ll see more patterns in them.”Mr. Barson, however, cautions against choosing darker hues for the bathroom.”A black tub shows everything,” he says. “I recommend white appliances, and we use color through the marble, the tile or the accessories.”

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